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  • Singh, Rana P.B. and Haigh, Martin J. 2015. Hindu Pilgrimage; in, Brunn, ed. CWRM. 783

    Submitted: 21 March 2012, Revised 13 Sept 2014. < 6850 words, 1 table, 7 figures >. Released: 1 March 2015.

    [425.15]. Singh Rana P.B. and Haigh, Martin J. 2015. Hindu Pilgrimages: The Contemporary Scene; in, Brunn, Stanley D. (ed.) The Changing World Religion Map, CWRM: Sacred Places, Identities, Practices and Politics. Springer Science + Business Media B.V., Dordrecht/ New York: pp.783-802. . ISBN Book: 978-94-017-9375-9. ISBN e-Book: 978-94-017-9376-6. DOI 10.1007/978-94-017-9376-6_39.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Vol. II, Chapter IV.39. Chapter No.: 39 0002197368. The Authors.

    Hindu Pilgrimage: The Contemporary Scene

    Rana P. B. Singh (India) and Martin J. Haigh (U.K.)

    39.1. Introduction Experiencing the power of place through acts of pilgrimage is a central feature of Hinduism (cf. Jacobsen, 2012). For Hindus, pilgrimage is a sacramental process that both symbolizes the participation of the pilgrim in the spiritual realm and actively establishes a two-way relationship between the pilgrim and the divine. Many pilgrimage places draw devotees through their reputation for granting some specific spiritual, social or material blessing, usually expressed in terms of purification and the healing of soul, mind and body (Stoddard, 1997). However, Hindu pilgrimage is also a social duty, a rite of passage, and a way of gaining favor, which equally involves searching for spiritual experience in special places and learning that these material places lie outside the spiritual, mystical, true reality (Sopher, 1987: 15). The liminal faithscape that is so created encompasses sacred places, sacred time, sacred meanings, and sacred rituals. The focal points for Hindu pilgrimage travel are called tirthas. The word tirtha means a ford or river-crossing and, by extension, these are places that allow passage between the mundane and spiritual realms (Bhardwaj and Lochtefeld, 2004). Each Hindu pilgrimage is a tirthayatra (tirtha journey) and the geographical manifestation of each tirthayatra evokes a new kind of landscape that, for the devotee, overlays sacred and symbolic meaning upon a physical and material base. Hindu pilgrims often conceive their sacred journeys as an earthly adventure that combines spiritual seeking and physical tests (Sax, 1991). If touring is an outer journey in geographical space then pilgrimage is the geographical expression of an inner journey. If touring is something largely oriented to pleasure seeking (and/or the satisfaction of curiosity) then pilgrimage is something that combines spiritual and worldly aspirations in places where the immanent and the transcendent mesh. Today, most Hindu sacred places are dominated by hybrid spaces that blend the religious and the mundane in complex, often contradictory, forms. Each sacredscape of sacred spaces, religious ritual performances, and religious functionaries (cf. Vidyarthi, et al., 1979) is embedded within the socio-economic-environmental attributes of the mundane world and so creates the wholeness of a geographical faithscape (cf. Singh, 2013: 69).

    Here, pilgrimage tourism is big business, part of a gigantic $18 billion, 300 million participant, religious tourism and hospitality market (Wright, 2007). In 2008, it generated around US$100 billion, which is expected to increase to US$275.5 billion by 2018 (Mishra et al., 2011). Overall, India claims more than 562 million domestic and 5 million annual foreign tourist visitors, many of them from the diasporas (Kanjilal, 2005). Religious tourism provides half share of the total domestic tourists in India. The numbers of people involved are vast; the last Kumbha Mela festival held in 2001 (Fig. 39.1) brought 68 million visitors to Allahabad (Prayag) and the recent one held in 2013 estimated to around 75 million visitors. Tourism is Indias largest service industry worth around 6% of GDP (almost 9% of total employment) and it is a major growth engine for the Indian economy (Mishra et al. 2011).

  • Singh, Rana P.B. and Haigh, Martin J. 2015. Hindu Pilgrimage; in, Brunn, ed. CWRM. 784

    Fig. 39.1. Allahabad, Kumbha Mela 2001: Pilgrims camp, where lived over a million pilgrims for a month (photograph by Singh). However, pilgrimages knit together the diverse Hindu population, at many different

    integrative levels, socially, culturally (Bhardwaj, 1973: 228). Collectively, they developing the complex web of pilgrimage routes and places that defines the sacred geography of India (cf. Eck, 2012). Although outward expressions of Hindu religious beliefs, driven by each pilgrims deeper quest for union of the human and divine, collectively, they reflect Hinduisms vitality, resilience, and syncretism.

    Today, there is a rising tide of pilgrimage tourism in India, which may be related to an increased desire among Hindus to assert their identity. Partly, this is a reaction to the new militancy of Islam, perhaps partly to increasing prosperity, but also, partly, it is consequence of the sectarian politics of Hindutva, conservative Hindu nationalism, and the rivalry between secular parties, such as Congress, and identity parties, such as, in North India, the (high caste dominated) Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and (lower caste dominated) Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), who promote a concept of Hindu cultural nationalism based on Hindu scriptures (Narayan, 2009), which led to the destruction of the Babri Mosque, Ayodhya, on December 6, 1992. Of course, expanding religions often place their shrines on above those of the religion they would supplant. Many British churches cover pagan Holy Wells, a mosque stands over Lord Krishnas birthplace in Mathura, while the Babri Mosque covered the birth place of Lord Rama. Such historical contestations are very easily exploited for political gain (Singh 2011b). Here, the result was another round of inter-communal disturbances throughout the country. However, a side effect has been that large numbers of Hindus have become more conscious of their religious heritage. The result has been increased participation in traditional rituals, celebrations, the construction of new temples and, of course, pilgrimage. Meanwhile, Hinduism, which is itself very diverse, remains broadly tolerant of diversity and there are examples of regional level Hindu pilgrimages, such as Sabarimalai in Kerala (South India), in which Christians and Muslims freely participate (Sekar, 1992).

    39.2. The Pilgrims Progression

    The motivations for pilgrimage are complex. Schmidt (2009) classifies them into several types: devotional, healing, obligatory or socially required, ritual cycle whether related to the calendar of stages of human life or wandering freeform. Bhardwaj suggests that pilgrimages to the highest level shrines are made more for spiritual gains while pilgrimages to

  • Singh, Rana P.B. and Haigh, Martin J. 2015. Hindu Pilgrimage; in, Brunn, ed. CWRM. 785

    lower level shrines tended to seek more material goals (Bhardwaj, 1973). Respecting this, the authors propose a typology of five classes arrayed as a spectrum. At the one extreme are: (1) Tourists those who are there to see the sights, take a picture, buy a souvenir, eat some food but who have no major spiritual or emotional engagement with the sacred messages of the site. (2) Pilgrims of Duty people who travel to the sacred not necessarily through belief but out of respect to their Social Dharma. It is something they must do and be seen to be doing by their community. Their pilgrimage is not especially spiritual, but it is expected of them, it is a display of social conformity. (3) Pilgrims of Need Spiritual Supplicants people who travel on a pilgrimage in order to gain some result in the material world. They are believers - but their mind is troubled by rough weather in the ocean of material life. In the Indian Himalaya, Uttarakhands Chital temple, which is devoted to Shri Golu Dev, the Kumauni God of Justice, is covered in manautis requests for success in legal disputes, examinations, interviews etc all backed up with promises of gifts, usually a new temple bell, if the wish is granted (Agarwal, 1992; see Fig. 2). (4) Pilgrims of Hope Spiritual Tourists are those who seek spiritual uplift from association with the Supreme, they have spiritual goals and seek things that are mainly outside the mundane world, but they are part-timers. They access the liminal mainly to leaven otherwise worldly lives. (5) Pilgrims of Union true Spiritual Seekers for who all experience is a spiritual journey, who follow moksha dharma, a path that seeks escape from the material world and the Hindu cycle of rebirth.

    Fig. 39.2. Golu Devata Temple, Chitai, Kumaun Himalaya - pilgrim thank you gifts of temple bells (photograph by Haigh).

    Most, Hindu pilgrimages are performed on auspicious occasions, sacred times that are

    often defined in terms of astronomical-astrological correspondences, which underpin their associated qualities of sacredness (pavitrika) and merit-giving capacity (punya-phala). These special occasions very often coincide with the timing of sacred festivals and share the belief that, at such times, the spiritual benefits of a particular tirtha are most powerful. This, of course, can lead to the development of mass pilgrimages like those of the Kumbha Mela and

  • Singh, Rana P.B. and Haigh, Martin J. 2015. Hindu Pilgrimage; in, Brunn, ed. CWRM. 786

    Panchakroshi Yatra. Of course, the many and varied regional traditions of Hinduism, together with the rival claims of each tirtha, contain many such occasions and festivals. However, at pan-India level there appear about thirty-one key dates (cf. Table 1).

    Table 39.1. Hindu Festive


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